Q&A with Mark Micheli, Kelton's VP of Experience Innovation
February 27, 2020
Mark Micheli — Kelton's VP of Experience Innovation and Product Strategy — shares his thoughts on the practice he's building and what it's meant to make the 2020 Grit Future List.
- You recently made the 2020 Grit Future List, cementing your status as a rising insights star. How does that feel?
Mark: Deeply uncomfortable! For the record, an “insights star” sounds like a really boring party guest, but it has been an excuse to reflect on my career to-date and feel a lot of gratitude toward the teachers, mentors, clients, and colleagues I’ve learned from in the last decade. I think this list speaks less to anything I’ve done as an individual but more to the people here at Kelton who consistently band together to nurture new ways of thinking and engineer new ways of solving client problems.
- Can you tell us more about the Experience Innovation practice you’re building at Kelton?
Mark: Absolutely. We are a multi-disciplinary group of designers, researchers, engineers, journalists, marketers, and product managers obsessed with service design — a design research approach that says we can no longer simply design products, we have to design their context, or service ecosystem, too.
Our foundational view is that org charts, job titles, and flame wars between disciplines — like user research vs. market research — are too often an exercise in meaningless gatekeeping. We essentially say these silos are the enemy and we all gotta work together on behalf of the customer. So we orchestrate experiences by helping product, design, and marketing come together to deliver exceptional customer experiences.
- What about before Kelton? What experiences led you here?
Mark: I talk about my career as being a big “snowball” of experiences — anywhere I’ve worked I’ve sought out new perspectives, new decision-making languages, or new ways of asking questions that, I hope, have rounded me out and made me better able to lead creative teams through the messy process of researching and developing things that make life better for an end user.
In terms of how I came to Kelton, the short answer is that I was a journalist, turned policy researcher, turned marketer, turned human-centered designer — and all of those seemingly divergent experiences snowballed together into a career that has made a lot of sense at Kelton, particularly given our journalistic roots.
- What’s one thing a lot of people don’t know about you?
Mark: My stupid human-trick is that I can walk on my hands…
- What’s the most important thing you’ve learned that has made you a better researcher?
Mark: That the job of researcher and designer are, paradoxically, about not knowing. A lot of researchers feel pressure to have all the answers — when in fact the job is to revel in your role as the “not knower.” Listening is very much an underrated skill in our world, and this job is much more about finding ways to authentically get into position to listen and observe what’s actually occurring in someone’s life. From there, you hope to honor the stories people share by turning those insights into something that helps them.
- What’s your favorite thing about working with the brands you partner with?
Mark: Their consistent interest in collaboration. I’ve been in-house and in agencies, so I understand what can be maddening about working with outside teams. I always aim to see myself as an extension of a client’s team — not some “consultant” who will march in with all the answers and a fancy framework. I think our clients are hungry for genuine partnership, and it consistently makes doing this kind of work a joy. There’s always a new challenge, a new team dynamic to unpack, and new user stories to learn, empathize with, and solve around.
- What are some of the challenges Experience Innovation can help brands solve?
Mark: If you are working to make a product, brand, service, or experience better for your customers — call us up. From evaluative work, like improving the UX of an existing product or experience. To exploratory work, like coming up with an entirely new use case or strategy for emerging technology. To generative work, like working with users to generate prototypes or new ideas that fuel an innovation pipeline — we love to be a spark in the insights to action process.
- What are you most excited about for Kelton’s Experience Innovation practice in the next year?
Mark: The year ahead is one in which the world is going to be thinking really hard about its priorities — and all of us are going to keep questioning the value of our work, who it serves, and how we accomplish big things. I think Experience Innovation and service design represent approaches that are at once strategic, tactical, and rooted in very basic human values. I’m excited to keep having inspiring conversations with our clients, for more folks to learn about what we’re up to, and to keep meeting humans with stories that fuel innovations that matter.